Join Thrive Mahoning Valley at the Youngstown Historical Center of Industry & Labor, as we unveil the results of the Dear Mahoning Valley project with a gallery-style mixer.
Free to attend
We will share brief words about the project at 7:30pm
Catering by Prepped Wellness
Cookies by Heather’s Heavenly Treats.
Hosted by YSU’s Center for Working Class Studies.
ABOUT THE PROJECT
The Dear Mahoning Valley project is an effort to engage in community storytelling that was inspired by similar projects such as Steel Valley Voices and Dear Minnesota. The project allows residents who moved to, or through the Valley from elsewhere to submit their stories to be featured so that their voices can be amplified through any medium of their choosing. Thrive Mahoning Valley partnered with Lit Youngstown and the YSU Center for Working Class Studies to bring this project to life.
Dear Mahoning Valley will be a living project and future submission will gladly be accepted and incorporated into the online gallery on the organization’s website. If you are interested in participating in the future, reach out to Thrive Mahoning Valley by connecting on Facebook @ThriveMahoningValley or by email at firstname.lastname@example.org. You may also directly submit your letter by clicking the button below.
Dear Mahoning Valley,
I am from one of the most beautiful places on this planet. Well, I guess that may be a little biased, but still very accurate. I am from The Lakeshore City of Orono, Minnesota. I have often asked myself, why would they give my town such a name? It may seem pretty obvious knowing our geography, I mean we live on the shore of one of the biggest enclosed lakes in Minnesota. And with Minnesota being the land of 10,000 lakes, I guess that is saying something. However, when I think of the name “The Lakeshore City” I think it represents so much more. Lake Minnetonka, the most beautiful place in question, is not just a geographical masterpiece, but a culture for my community. Nearly every leisure activity we do in my town has some correlation to the lake. No matter what the season or what the weather, there are always people enjoying the bounty that the lake offers. In this letter I have attached some of the most beautiful images of my homeland that I wish to share with you, but keep in mind, I truly believe Lake Minnetonka’s beauty cannot be truly captured through these images.
The first image is the sunsetting, creating a beautiful mosaic of color on the horizon line. This image is taken facing away from Wayzata Beach. Downtown Wayzata was the city which I’d always felt so comfortable in. I would go out to eat with my family and friends at the plethora of restaurants the town hosted. I would bike down the Dakota Trail when I was old enough to go there alone. I even had my first kiss at the Wayzata Beach. This is my home.
The second picture shows the same bay as the first, but it may look a little different. You can see hundreds of people gathering upon the 30 foot ice to play in the annual Wayzata Chilly Open; the golf tournament on ice. Everyone in the community comes together and gathers in their groups of friends to take on this course. This is my home.
Staying in the same season, the third through fifth images show a few of the many winter activities enjoyed on the ice. The third image shows the infamous sport of broomball, similar to ice hockey in a way, it is played in boots as a ball is swatted towards the goal with a broom-like stick. The fourth image shows a couple of the hundreds of homemade ice rinks that families make on the lake. Kids work to shovel off the snow of the plotted section of the ice and sweep the dusting of snow off of the rink. As you drive along the lakeshore roads at night, you can see large flood lamps shedding light on the hockey players gathering to play a late night game of stick and puck. The fifth image shows a number of ice houses creating a sort of neighborhood upon the ice. These neighbors stay warm inside their ice houses as they wait for a bite on their hook. This is my home.
The cities that surround Lake Minnetonka happen to be some of the wealthiest communities in the country. So, as you can imagine, wealthy individuals on the lake must have expensive boats. This sixth image shows some of the stunning boats seen on a nice summer day docked at the restaurant, Lord Fletcher’s. This restaurant has been such a prominent part of my childhood. I would come to this restaurant with my family and friends to get a Minnesota classic walleye sandwich. The seventh picture shows the awnings covering the restaurant’s dockside tables. This place is always packed, and we often have to stalk a table finishing their meal in order to snag their table before another group does. This is home.
The eighth picture shows my home away from home. When you live on Lake Minnetonka, it is super common to be a member of a country club, so this is mine. Lafayette Country Club was truly my second home during the summers. I would attend their Kid’s Camp, I was a member of their swim team, and took many tennis and golf lessons throughout the years. This is my home.
The final picture shows an aerial view of the beautiful Lake Minnetonka. Covering 125 miles of lakeshore, including around 25 bays, and stretching through a dozen cities, this is my stunning home. I still find myself standing to admire the view from the Arcola Bridge, or snowmobiling over Browns Bay, or even just taking in the smell of the lake as I drive along the lakeshore roads with my windows open. This is truly my home.
I hope to learn to love Mahoning Valley as much as I love my sweet Lake Minnetonka. I get to live in the most charming house across the street from Wick Park. I get to watch some of the most beautiful sunrises I have ever seen as the sun peaks over Stambaugh Stadium. I get to learn to love the Mahoning Valley for the next four years of college. This is my new home.
Dear Mahoning Valley,
I like living in the Mahoning Valley because of the opportunities available here, the togetherness of the community, and the unique environment we have available to us. I have grown up in the Mahoning Valley. One major thing that I hope to change in the valley is the racial divide. If I could have it my way, everyone would matter and be equal. We can do better as a community, and as the Mahoning Valley.
A Youngstown Teacher
Dear Mahoning Valley
“Welcome home,” the robotic voice stated simply with no care one way or another. Perhaps there was a slight incline toward the end, a possible sign of enjoyment toward the word ‘home’. But then again, it was a machine and its ability to feel enjoyment was questioned, not much different from my own response.
Part of me warmed at the greeting. There was something about being told I have a home and have arrived at that home that makes it special. Makes it easy. Another part isn’t sure about the message. A boiling feeling—one of insecurity, worry, wondering—bubbles deep within me. This feeling is the one that takes over.
It is an odd thing to think of home. Or place for that matter. I’ve always struggled to write of places that are real, as I’ve spent most of my mind-space living in the daydreams of the fantastical.
Certainly, the three-story apartment in front of me didn’t feel like home. Not anymore than the state or city that I was born in.
I’ve always been more drawn to people and culture than I have places. My home town means very little to me—although the older I get the more appreciation I gain for it—but the people in it are what brings me back nearly once a month. If they lived somewhere else, I wouldn’t feel any different though, no sense of loss for the place itself—and that has bugged me.
Especially when the robotic voice claimed I was “home” at the green shingled apartment in front of me.
There is something to be said not about this apartment, but the city it resides in—the valley rather.
I’m hesitant to say the Mahoning Valley may be one of the first places that I’ve felt an attachment toward. I’m hesitant for many reasons, two of which are: 1). I’ve been here just over a year; and 2). I’ve always been hesitant to declare a fondness for something that I am preemptively grieving, as I’ll be leaving in less than 2 years.
That preemptive grief is key to why I haven’t attached to places. Well, at least that’s the hypothesis right now. There’s a solid chance that I just struggle to properly attach to things. Insecure attachment perhaps. But that is not the point here.
The point is that all my life, I knew I would be leaving places—leaving my hometown for college, leaving the college town for more college, leaving that place to be with my partner, and so on. And while I’m not entirely speaking of small moves—most are out of state moves—I think there is something to be said that in all of my twenty-something years I have not connected to a place as I have with the Mahoning Valley.
After some thought, I think I’ve decided it’s the culture that draws me in. And Mill Creek Park, which is arguably the most charming Metro Park I will ever encounter in my lifetime. But it is the notion of culture—subculture specifically—that I am drawn to when I sit to write about the Mahoning Valley.
There isn’t a good way to put something so ingrained, so integral to an area into words. But I will try, nonetheless. A good example to illustrate the culture of the Mahoning Valley as I’ve felt it is the Cinderella Bridge.
On Google Maps, the bridge is simply listed ‘suspension bridge’ but when I chat with locals and mention the suspension bridge, they will often correct me— “You mean, the Cinderella Bridge.”
I was dumbfounded the first time this happened. So much so, I showed them Google Maps and they simply responded, “No one calls it that.”
Another instance—Mr. Peanut Bridge. There was such fascination to a metal peanut man atop of a bridge in Youngstown that when the bridge was being renovated, there was an uprising when he disappeared. So much so, Mr. Peanut was touched up and returned promptly to the top of the bridge where he will, likely, forever remain.
Perhaps these two examples aren’t quite enough. I’ve also learned of the Witches’ Cabin in Mill Creek Park; the Jenny furnaces that inspired the literary magazine, Jenny; the Youngstown cookie table; and so many more.
Perhaps what I’m getting at is in the Mahoning Valley there is a subculture of storytelling. But this storytelling is deeply engrained in the residents and in the children. There are so many stories that the collective group of residents know and enjoy retelling. There’s so much local history that is shared orally from one generation to the next and in many ways become legend. It is the pull toward learning these stories and becoming part of this collective culture that has drawn me so deeply into being attached to this place. And perhaps why it took less than a year to feel attached.
And as I got out of the car, walking into the three-story apartment building, I found my holding back tears. I was preemptively grieving again, but this time it was for a place. A place that will likely stay with me for the rest of my life. A place of stories, tales, and legends—and of a beautiful Metro Park that brings people together. It will be a place that I miss deeply, and I can only hope that wherever I go next, that place has even half of the attachment as what I’ve felt here in the Valley.
Dear Mahoning Valley,
This is my home. I’m a nurse and I have experience working with inmates, chemically dependent persons, and now scholars. There is plenty of need for me here.
I love food, specifically pizza, chicken, pasta, and so much more, and this area has plenty of options for those things, the best of them in my opinion.
I love celebrating holidays and gathering with family. This area is strong with ethnic ties creating so many wonderful celebrations and reasons to gather.
I am a Christian. This area has a strong religious foundation and many beautiful churches.
But it is not all good. I do not like all of the shootings that have been going on in and around my neighborhood recently. It is sad that little kids cannot play outside and enjoy themselves while this is going on. It is my opinion that our community needs more programs to help our young people deal with the anger management, mental health issues, and trauma.
But still, I love my town.
Dear Mahoning Valley,
It's been one crazy year for sure. I moved here in the summer of 2020, in the thick of the COVID-19 virus pandemic. I did not know what I was getting into nor what kind of people I'd meet.
When I moved to the area I had a couple goals for myself. The first was to support more local businesses. I mostly cook all my own meals so I didn't expect to explore the range of businesses I have. To my sweet surprise the Mahoning Valley is home to a plethora of unique flavors. I've enjoyed places from Barry Dyngle's, and Bruno Brother's Pizza in Youngstown, to Bombay Curry and Grill in Niles. The list is much more expansive, but these three are premium places to visit and I recommend any to go there.
I also wanted to be more involved in the community. I can proudly say I've experienced one of the greatest communities in my life. It's rich with wonderful people, deep culture, and strong connections. Each person here seems to love the area and that is especially true of Mill Creek Park. Everyone speaks highly of the large metro-park that features a magnificent gorge, a calm river, and an adorable pond of turtles. I'd be remiss if I didn't include the rustbelt writers here. All of these folk have such a reverence for the area that I am in awe whenever I see their works. To keep this brief I've been to Shaker Woods, the Canfield Fair, and the Italian Fest. They were all fantastic times with fantastic people and even more fantastic food.
I regret to say that the Mahoning Valley is not where I intend to stay. I fear my time here will be gone before I am ready for it. While I am here I am going to continue meeting new people and trying new places, as well as embolden the relationships and menus I have already discovered. Just know that I have memories that will forever root me to the valley. In February of 2021, I proposed to the love of my life right here in the valley. Walks at Mill Creek Park have been filled with our fantastical musings and our boisterous laughter. In exchange for pleasant memories in a challenging time period, allow me to say thank you for including me here.
Thank You Mahoning Valley,
Dear Mahoning Valley,
I love you. Why? Because there’s great diversity here. Because of Mill Creek Park. Because of the amazing restaurants. Because of the four seasons market. Because of YSU. If I had to say anything is needed, it is more shops downtown.
YSU Student teacher
Dear Mahoning Valley,
I have been here for just over two years and I must say that I like it here. I like that there is a growing Spanish-speaking community to make me feel comfortable. I did not know English when I moved here but my mother made sure that my brothers and I learned so that we can fit in. And boy do I feel like I fit in. Thank you for making me feel welcomed Mahoning Valley.
Hi my name is Ryan Cline and I have lived in the Mahoning Valley my entire life. I am an 18 year old going into my freshman year at Youngstown State University, and I believe the Mahoning Valley has a bad rep. Everyone wonders why people would want to live in Northeast Ohio, however I truly believe it is not that bad here. We get to experience great food, as well as the four very different seasons, and not everywhere in the world can say that! I know that this may not be the most exciting place, however we have multiple things around here to do, such as trampoline parks, a minor league baseball team (the Mahoning Valley Scrappers), as well as much more.
While I may have been in the Mahoning Valley my entire life, I am staying for a reason. I believe this is one of the best places to be at to help shape my future for life. My dad is a real estate agent and he has told my family that this is the second cheapest home market in America! It does not cost much to live here, and you get beautiful weather on top of that for the majority of the year. My life has changed a lot since being in the Mahoning Valley, I have grown into the man I am today here. While sometimes I wish I lived closer to my online friends, I am thankful that I grew up in the Mahoning Valley, because it is a big part of who I am. I am proud to be from here, and if I ever do leave for whatever reason, I know that one day I will be back.
Dear Mahoning Valley,
I love my home, but I hate seeing all the senseless violence going on here. That’s why I volunteered to be a part of an organization that speaking out and is listening to the youth as to how ‘us’ as adults can help ‘them’ young people become positive citizens in our community, and how we can help them by giving them the tools they need to be successful. We teach them to deal with certain issues that they may have a face today like anger management, cops, prejudice, jobs, senseless killings, etc.
Together we can be the village…
A Teacher's aide
Dear Mahoning Valley,
Here’s what I like about you. Everything seems close here. My family is close and I very much like that this community is smaller to some degree.
Here’s what I don’t like. I feel there is a lack of diversity here. There is too much drug abuse and not enough stores or restaurants. I am specifically talking about the city and not the suburbs.
I would like to see more diversity in this town, as well as a genuine care for the children and homes where there’s drug, physical, and emotional abuse. I would also like to see shops and restaurants in Youngstown attracting people in. I would love to see people leave for a short time to experience different towns, cities, cultures, etc. and then return. We need that talent here. It is my experience that most people never leave though.
Dear Mahoning Valley,
Thank you for being a place of comfort and consistency for me and my family. My grandparents immigrated to the United States from Italy and settled in the Mahoning Valley around the time my father and his siblings were born. The Valley afforded my grandparents work opportunities and financial stability that were only dreamt of in southern Italy where they hailed from, a land often forgotten by the developing world. In one generation my father and his siblings were able to establish themselves as core components of the Valley. Whether it be through education or entrepreneurship, their presence has been felt by many in the community. Now that I have left the Valley, it warms my heart knowing that my family continues to strengthen its roots in the city where I largely became who I am today.
In 2020 I moved from Youngstown to Providence, Rhode Island to pursue a PhD in psychology at Brown University. I have made a few trips home this year, and each time I come home I am reminded of why Youngstown is so special. The sensations of the city, things like a slice of New York style pizza, a pint of Handel’s ice cream or a cocktail from Bistro 1907 feel like home in an inexplicable way. Beyond the gastronomic indulgences of Youngstown, the sense of family and community is undeniable in comparison to the sometimes-cold life of a graduate student in New England. Each time I’ve come home, something new has been built or something old has been made new again. Something about the people and the places make it hard to stay away. (I missed the Brier Hill festival this year and I am already looking at flights to come home for it next year.) The Valley is thriving, and I am fortunate to be able to say it is where I am from.
Dear Mahoning Valley,
I am not originally from this area, but I am a student at Youngstown State University. I am from Southeast Ohio and a predominantly white town. Living here has allowed me to experience diversity that I was never exposed to at home. I love all of the friends that I’ve made here, and respect all of their differences. This experience allows me to use my voice at home and my privilege to speak for the things I don’t agree with. I may standalone in my beliefs and morals at home, but not here.
YSU teaching student
Dear Mahoning Valley
I’d like to claim I was a minimalist before the movement made it cool. And my minimalist lifestyle was never more apparent than the night before my flight to Vienna, Austria. That night, I realized all I had to my name was a suitcase, backpack filled with clothes and two totes of papers and books that would live in my parents’ garage. I was hell-bent on escaping and diving head-first into a new experience, yet I couldn’t ignore the lump I felt in my throat knowing that tomorrow once I boarded my flight, all that would remain of me in Youngstown were two totes filled with combustible relics of my 19 years in the Mahoning Valley.
If I’d been following the plan I had a mere six months earlier, I’d have been a little less than a month into my first year as a nursing student at Youngstown State University. But that May when I received my letter of acceptance, I wasn’t met with joy, or excitement, or any of the other feelings I should have felt. I only dreaded another year of empty work pursuing a field I couldn’t picture myself working in. I felt lost and like many other young adults, I was itching to get out of my hometown. So, when the opportunity presented itself that summer, I jumped at the chance.
When I was young, my family hosted a foreign-exchange student from Austria, and she became part of our family. She regularly kept in touch with my parents, my sisters, and me, and that summer, she reached out asking if we knew anyone that would be interested in working as an au pair for her sister. Within 15 minutes of receiving that message, I was on the phone with her making plans to come over.
I arrived in Vienna two months later on September 22, 2018. I had taken two years of German while I was in high school, but “Guten Tag” was just about all I still remembered. As part of my au pair contract, I would be taking daily German courses, but I still could’ve been bothered to learn enough German to ask the airport staff “where is the exit?” It took me no longer than my first five minutes after arriving in Vienna to realize how truly on my own I was.
My first day set the tone for the rest of my year in Vienna. I’d always craved independence, and now I was being served an all-you-can-eat buffet of it. I learned how to get myself through and out of many situations by diving into the deep end. Most importantly, I learned what kind of life I was interested in living. Austria is a beautiful country, as were many of the countries I visited abroad, but they all had an ugly side as well. A large population of Romani people shelter on the streets of Vienna, and as many of the city dwellers of Vienna tend to be Caucasian, racism and racist mistreatment of the city’s homeless begs the question of whom this country makes itself beautiful for.
Growing up in Youngstown, it was easy to recognize all its faults: My grandfather had worked in the Youngstown steel mills and had been there for Black Monday, my mother worked in the Youngstown School District and witnessed the effects of generational poverty on children, my father owned the Skate Zone Fun Center and witnessed the closing of friends’ small businesses.
My family has been around for the rise and fall of the Valley’s economy, but unlike me at the time, they were staying grounded and persevering. While I was away, I naturally missed close friends and family, but what I yearned for most was the sense of community I felt in Youngstown. Vienna is beautiful and beams with adventure; however, it isn’t home.
In May 2021 I graduated with a degree in Professional and Technical Writing from YSU. This past summer, I began working with the Senior Support Action Group (SSAG) to address food insecurity in Mahoning, Columbiana, and Jefferson counties. I believe that my year spent 4,462 miles away from the Valley gave me a new outlook. While I don’t suggest everyone must travel thousands of miles, I do think that leaving your hometown for a little while will always help you gain a new perspective and appreciation. Every city across the world has its own unique needs, but there is nowhere more deserving of your time and attention than the city that raised you.
Dear Mahoning Valley,
I really like where I live. If I had to choose to stay here or go back to Mexico, I would stay here, because I love it. I really appreciate the support I’ve received here and I’m starting to learn about the history of this city and community. I am impressed and I’m happy I have found a place to call home
Dear Mahoning Valley,
When my wife and I came to the Valley many moons ago, we arrived as Youth Ministers at St. Charles Church...
We were welcomed by many including the parishioners of the youth we worked with - parish staff were especially kind to us including the Taylor family...
After Annie was born she attended Staff meetings and was passed around the table, the Nun’’s and priests on staff loved her...
We got to know Mill Creek Park very quickly - we lived on the South Side of Youngstown, on Ferndale...
While in our early years we were the beneficiaries of much kindness, there were still times we felt alone and wished we had more friends like the Taylor’s - but were so very grateful for them...
As the years went by we became acquainted with groups like the Mahoning Valley Ulster Project for Peace and the Gathering of the Irish Clans and not only found communities to belong to but to pour our hearts and souls and good will into...
We hope for everyone who arrives as a new person in any community - the kind of experience we have had in this wonderful Valley we call home.